Every evangelical church wrestles with evangelism—how to lead lost people to a personal faith in Jesus. We teach our congregations to share their faith with their friends and neighbors. We design special events to carry the gospel into our community. We make evangelistic outreach a cornerstone of our overall ministry.
The effort is critical to our life and mission. Churches that are intentional about evangelism grow. Churches that neglect it decline and eventually die.
Nothing moves a lost person to faith like being in a church where worship is so authentic that barriers to belief are overcome not through rational argument or emotional manipulation but through the manifest presence of a God who actually cares about them.
But I’ve come to believe that we don’t give enough attention to the best way to introduce the lost to Jesus, and that’s in our weekly worship services. Nothing moves a lost person to faith like being in a church where worship is so authentic that barriers to belief are overcome not through rational argument or emotional manipulation but through the manifest presence of a God who actually cares about them.
All the surveys today point to the decline of church membership as an indictment of our failure at evangelism. Those of us in church leadership would concede the point—training and motivating our people to share their faith has never been harder than it is today. Many pastors and their churches have given up the effort. But I’m starting to wonder if the decline is due as much to mediocre worship as it is to lack of evangelism. If we get our worship right, our evangelism will improve as well.
Around the year 1000 AD, Vladimir, Prince of Kiev, sent out a group of advisors from his kingdom to find the one true religion. After several disappointing experiences, the advisors arrived in Constantinople, the center of Christianity in the ancient world. When they worshiped at Church of the Holy Wisdom—the greatest church in all Christendom—they found what they were looking for. The manifest presence of God was so great that they stopped their journey and returned to Kiev with this report for the Prince:
We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendor or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you: only this we know, that God dwells there among men, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. For we cannot forget that beauty.
Vladimir was persuaded by their testimony of authentic worship. He soon led his nation into the Christian faith, which led in turn to the evangelism of all Russia.
For another perspective on authentic worship, I blogged previously on the difference between God-centered and man-centered worship.
Authenticity cuts across politics, socio-economic groups, religious backgrounds and generational differences to address a yearning that much of America is feeling right now. If the church can figure out how to authentically engage people in worship with the Holy Spirit pointing to Jesus to the glory of the Father, that’s the biblical definition of evangelism. This is what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 14:25 when he gives guidance in how believers should worship:
[when] an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
So what does a church do to make its worship services more evangelistic? The conventional wisdom would be to take one of two directions. Some churches choose to make their worship services relevant to unbelievers by casting them in a more secular fashion. This is the approach taken by leaders in the so-called church growth or seeker-friendly movements and has led to many great congregations.
A second direction is to double down on traditional revivalist style worship services, with an emphasis on how things used to be done in the past. Many churches today have benefited from this approach because it helps draw a clear distinction between the gospel and the world.
Worship is more about being in God’s presence than relevance to modern cultural standards on the one hand or conformity to yesterday’s religious practice on the other.
But across America another approach to worship is growing that’s oriented in a different direction altogether. It varies from church to church, from region to region and even from style to style but has one conviction in common: worship is more about being in God’s presence than relevance to modern cultural standards on the one hand or conformity to yesterday’s religious practice on the other. This worship seeks the manifest presence of God and, because of that, brings lost people face to face with Jesus. That’s the best means of evangelism.